Friday, September 2, 2022

Engelberg, Switzerland

Engelberg was the second stop on our tour of Switzerland (which also included Zurich and Lauterbrunnen and Murren, and it was hands-down our favorite city. Not only is the downtown pristine and adorable, it's also the access point for some really idyllic and fun alpine adventures. Somehow, Engelberg continues to fly under the radar, particularly with Americans (all the other tourists seemed to be Europeans), even though this Swiss locale is definitely world-class!

Where to Stay

We booked a superior apartment with a balcony at the H+ Hotel and Spa Engelberg, and it felt very superior indeed, with two large bedrooms and a view from the balcony that looked like a green screen image (take a look below). The hotel featured a lovely pool and sauna area that we took advantage of, although I was surprised that you're asked to be fully unclothed to enter the sauna, despite it being coed! I saw that some people kept their robes on, however, so that's what we prudish Americans did, too. 

What to Do in Engelberg

Engelberg in the summer is probably what you picture when you think of Switzerland: soaring mountains adorned by fluffy white clouds, wildflowers on the mountainside, and adorable Swiss chalets everywhere you look. 

On our first afternoon there, we visited a cute little monastery that features a beautiful garden and a cheese shop, with cheese-making demonstrations during certain hours. We arrived too late to witness this, but still managed to taste several samples. We also purchased a jar of the freshest blueberry yogurt I've ever had  it was milky and flavorful, and such a nice treat to enjoy in the outdoor dining area. 

Engelberg is serviced by several cable cars going up various sides of the mountain, and we spent a whole day visiting the Brunni side. There are two levels where the gondolas stop: Ristis in the middle and Brunnihutte at the top. (Here's a map of what's open in the summer.)

We went all the way to the top to check out a K2 level via ferrata called Brunnistockli. Via ferrata (translated as metal road) is an upwards hike that involves climbing up metal rungs drilled into the mountain face and crossing various ropes course-type bridges. You have to wear climbing gear and be clipped in at all times. (We rented ours from the Krauter Hut, near the start of the trail.) The difficulty levels are rated K1 to K5, with K5 being the hardest. To get to the Brunnistockli via ferrata, you first have to ascend the mountain along a marked trail. 

Everyone we encountered told us that the via ferrata we were attempting was "easy," but the Swiss must have a different definition of easy because it was literally the hardest thing I've ever done! My husband agreed that it was really tough, although our kids quite enjoyed themselves and didn't find the course as challenging as we did. 

Honestly, I would've quit a quarter of the way through if there were emergency exits available. The only thing that got me past the initial ascent was the knowledge that there was literally no way out but up! Still, the views were beautiful, my family had fun, and I would recommend the hike if your family is adventurous and has experience with ropes courses and rock climbing. The minimum age for this via ferrata is 8.

After completing the Brunnistockli via ferrata, we hung out in the Brunnihutte area a little longer. There's a barefoot tickle trail around the Harzlisee (a small lake there), which is a path that you're supposed to walk in bare feet to experience all the different sensory surfaces, including pebbles, wood chips, pine cones, and mud. 

The tickle trail is more like a pain trail (some of the sharp pebbles felt like Lego pieces under my bare feet!), but some parts of it, like the squishy mud, was definitely interesting to experience. And the scenery was of course beautiful. 

We also had lunch in the area, enjoying the delicious mac and cheese (the Swiss make it with caramelized onions and little pieces of potato) and bratwurst at the Brunnihut SAC. But you can go really simple and buy your own sausages from the Krauter Hut to grill at the available barbecues, which looked fun. Maybe next time!

Finally, we picked up a scavenger hunt map from the Krauter Haus for a few francs and hiked our way down to Ristis, looking for 11 treasure chests along the way. There are two paths to choose for the scavenger hunt (we went with the more difficult one), and at first we started down the wrong path, which was frustrating. But once we got on track, the hunt was pretty easy to complete. At each treasure chest, you'll find a hole punch to use on the punch card built into your map, and when you reach Ristis, you show an attendant at the Berglodge restaurant your completed card to earn a prize. It was all very well done, and kept us busy during the 90-minute hike down.  

Ristis has lots of fun activities as well, although by that point we were pretty tired and only managed to experience a couple of them. There's a neat water play station, where kids can pump water that go down multiple chutes or retrieve water from a well with a bucket. There's also the Radio Sunshine Runner, a mountain coaster that costs a few francs per ride. This mountain coaster is more of a toboggan (you sled down a chute, instead of being hooked into a track) and somehow this made the whole thing more thrilling. My kids begged to go on a second time!

From the Ristis area, we took the gondola back to the valley floor. With the Swiss Travel Pass, the ride to and from Ristis was covered; the ride to Brunnihutte cost a few francs per adult (children are free). We hiked down from Brunnihutte, so we didn't pay for the gondola ride down to Ristis. 

All in all, it was a very full and active day unlike one I've ever spent before. I loved breathing in the mountain air, encountering the local cows with their clanging bells, and admiring the amazing views everywhere I looked. This is what Switzerland is all about!    

On our last full day in Engelberg, we ventured up a different side of the mountain, to the top of Titlis (the Swiss Travel Pass gave us 50 percent off the pricey tickets). It took two lifts: a small gondola took us up to Trubsee, where you can get out or stay on, and then continued on to Stand. At Stand, we transferred over to a large, rotating gondola (called the Rotair) that brought us all the way to the Titlis station at the very top. Here's a map of the whole area. 

It was quite disconcerting to travel so far up in such a short period of time, and I felt a bit woozy. Maybe it was from the thinner air? At any rate, it boggles my mind how we were able to reach the tippy-top of the mountain we'd been admiring from down below. 

There are a few fun attractions at Titlis, including a glacier cave, which is very slippery and chilly to walk through. Supposedly, the ice in the cave is more than 4,000 years old. Fortunately, we'd come prepared, dressed in three layers! The kids liked touching the ice walls, sitting on the ice throne, and sliding down the ice corridors. 

There's also a Cliff Walk, which is the highest suspension bridge in Europe and stretches over the abyss below. I'm not particularly scared of heights, but it was pretty scary even for me to walk across the bridge, especially since the whole thing sways! 

On the other side of the cliff walk is the Ice Flyer, a chair lift that goes down to a snow park. We'd been looking forward to checking out the snow park, which offers tubing and sledding, but sadly there wasn't enough snow to keep the park open when we visited in August. The kids consoled themselves by building a couple of tiny snowmen using what snow there was left.

After we were done with all the activities in the Titlis area, we took the rotating gondola back down to Trubsee, where there's a beautiful lake and many more activities. We borrowed one of the four rowboats and paddled out to the middle of the lake. 

We checked out the little skatepark there; you can borrow scooters or balance bikes to use on it. The kids jumped on the many trampolines and leaped onto a cushioned pad like stunt people. There's also a zipline here, but we didn't participate. We ate lunch at the self-service restaurant in Trubsee. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

And to close out our day, we took the gondola down to the bottom and then a funicular up to Gerschnialp, where you can rent scooters to ride back down to the valley. The winding trail is about 2 miles long and takes you through the forest and past fields filled with grazing cows. It was extremely picturesque and lots of fun to experience it all on a scooter! The kids declared this their favorite part of our entire trip.

Where to Eat 

Our first night in Engelberg, we decided to forgo the Swiss food for an evening and get some Indian food at Spice Bazaar. Not only was the place very cutely done in a sort of Indian-Swiss boho chic decor, but the food was spectacular as well. I highly recommend this restaurant. 

Our second night, we had upscale pizza and pasta at Bierlialp. This place, too, was very tasty, and the children's menu offered good deals and decent-size portions. Any time you encounter a children's menu in Switzerland, I recommend going with those choices, since they tend to be not much smaller than adult portions, cost half the price, and sometimes comes with dessert! 

And on our last night, we ate our hotel's restaurant, Urchig, which was also delicious. The kids again took advantage of the ridiculously inexpensive children's menus, while my husband had the fondue and I had the meatballs in an herb gravy. I was hoping it would be similar to the Swedish meatballs at Ikea, but it wasn't. Still, it was excellent; I hadn't been expecting the food in Switzerland to be so good, but everything we ate on our trip was fresh, flavorful, and expertly prepared. 

What's Nearby

As mentioned, Engelberg was just one of the three areas we visited while touring around Switzerland. Check out my itineraries for Zurich and Lauterbrunnen and Murren nearby!

You may also like: Zurich with Kids: What to See, Do, and Eat
Lauterbrunnen and Murren with Kids: What to See, Do, and Eat

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